Countries around the world have dedicated one day—March 8th, International Women’s Day—to focus attention on improving the lives of women. Despite some undeniable progress, particularly in education, maternal mortality and access to clean water, no country has achieved gender equality. The general consensus is that meaningful change has been agonisingly slow for the majority of women around the world. This is especially true in many of the world’s least developed countries where the progress of women has been hampered from time immemorial by ingrained cultural prejudices.
When I helped establish WEConnect International 11 years ago, we imagined a world where women would eventually have the same economic opportunities as men, specifically the opportunity to design and implement business solutions that create wealth and sustainable prosperity in their own communities. Although 30 percent of all private businesses in the world are now owned by women, I cannot imagine that in 2021 women-owned businesses would still be accessing less than one percent of large corporate and government buyer spend.
Certainly, we can do better than this. More importantly, we must. And doing that requires we do more than just lift up our voices in wishful unison on the same day every year. We must work together throughout the entire year to get to equality. This is especially true if we are serious about meeting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 5 (SDG 5), Gender Equality, by 2030. We must do much more, and we must do it right now.
Like the WeConnect International initiative of getting its members to commit targets to buy from women-owned businesses, if other organisations and business associations can also take up similar initiatives, we'll start taking a stride towards SDG 5.
Companies like Accenture, Cisco, Intel, IBM, Johnson and Johnson, Marriott and P&G, just to name a few, are already sourcing parts of their value chain from South Asia. By increasing their efforts to source more from women-owned businesses here in India, global and regional buyers can contribute both to their companies’ ability to meet public targets and make progress toward other capacity-building goals. This will help suppliers recover from the widely devastating economic effects of Covid-19.
Gender-inclusive sourcing is a proactive supplier diversity and inclusion strategy that addresses gender gaps in corporate value chains and increase access to markets for women-owned businesses. Imagine what a powerful first step it would be to double the spend and hence the capacity with women-owned businesses in India, which employ more than eight million people.
It will take leadership and courage to rise to this challenge. But it is also a smart business decision. Despite the government’s relatively high level of political commitment to promoting and sustaining women entrepreneurs, only about 14 percent of all micro, small and medium enterprises in India are majority-owned by women, and only 5.9 percent of all start-ups are led solely by women, according to a 2019 survey conducted by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI). There is plenty of room for them to grow.
Clearly, investing in women-owned businesses makes dollars and sense for large organisational buyers. But it’s also a wise decision for individual consumers at the local level, one that will benefit the entire community.
The author is CEO and Co-Founder, WEConnect International, a global network that connects women-owned businesses to qualified buyers around the world
The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.
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